It’s Thanksgiving already. The day that many of us stay in bed late and are beckoned from sleep by an array of smells: turkey roasting in the oven, yams stewing in their own sweet juices, and pies filled with vanilla and spices. We gather in groups of friends and family, as many people as we can seat and feed, eat as much as we possibly can, turn on an obligatory American football game and doze off some time between the main courses and dessert.
We know what Thanksgiving is supposed to symbolize. We know that the bounty we consume is among the richest in the world and we imply our most sincere thanks by enjoying every mouth-full. And while our smorgasbords pale in comparison to previous generations of Thanksgiving feasts, our modern Turkey Day has come to symbolize unbridled gluttony. When combined with Black Friday, Thanksgiving weekend is a consumer culture orgy; we eat everything we possibly can and then shop until our stomachs and our wallets beg us to stop. Both days have become victims of commercialization (exactly what Snoopy warned us about).
Holidays for giving thanks have been common throughout the history of Western culture but it was more common to celebrate with fasting than with gorging. In addition, days of giving thanks could be declared at any time, for any reason deemed worthy. As the first American settlers, and those expanding west became successful farmers, they began to equate their most significant celebrations with the harvest (a bounty often unknown in the old world). A long campaign was fought for a national Thanksgiving holiday at harvest time, which President Lincoln finally obliged in 1863.
In 1924, when Macy’s held their first Thanksgiving Day Parade, the holiday became embedded in the retail culture of the roaring 20’s. This shift marked the beginning of Thanksgiving as a mass-manufactured product. Like any widget with its identical components, Thanksgiving is now a constructed pattern of relish trays, plates blanketed in gravy, and carbohydrate induced hibernation. Even if our families do not follow this stereotypical Thanksgiving recipe, we almost always have traditions that we replicate, our own Thanksgiving widget.
From this perspective, Thanksgiving weekend is another example of the totality of liberal capitalism: mass produced, yet individually wrapped. Far from being merely the kick-off to the holiday shopping season, Black Friday has become a Thanksgiving tradition, one that has been known to induce hysteria and chaos. To activists, Black Friday is the apotheosis of everything that is wrong with capitalism, body count and all.
Buy Nothing Day is an annual grass-roots event that brings people together on Black Friday to collectively ask their peers to stop the madness of consumerism and invest in more meaningful lifestyles. There are frequent sightings of Zombies, Santa Claus, and Jesus at these events, all pitching a new way of life (or an old way of life) to consumers. The use of iconic cultural and religious figures emphasizes a return to the original values they once represented; they too have been commercialized.
As Americans we have more to be thankful for than we can understand. But we also have a lot of changes to make, a lot to make up for, and a lot to reconsider. The best way we can show our appreciation of our freedoms and our choices is to exercise them, stay informed, and stay engaged. Visit hyperlink to find a Buy Nothing Day event in your city.